JACKSON To the end, John Hightower insisted he loved his wife and was sorry for killing her and his two stepdaughters.
His final appeals having failed, Hightower was executed by lethal injection Tuesday for the 1987 killings in Milledgeville, in central Georgia.
Hightower, 63, made a brief final statement in which he apologized to the victims' family and asked for their forgiveness.
"I want to say that I'm sorry for the grief I brought to the Reaves family," he said.
He also thanked his family and friends for their support over the years.
"Last but not least, I thank my mother for being by me for so long," Hightower said.
He declined a final prayer.
His pastor, a friend and a paralegal were the only witnesses for him who attended the execution. There were no witnesses from his wife's family. Law enforcement officials attended.
Earlier Tuesday, he recorded a statement for prison officials in which he apologized for his crime and said he loved his wife then and still does. The tape was not released to the public.
As the lethal chemicals started to flow through his veins, Hightower's chest heaved, his breathing fluttered and his eyes started to close. At one point, he let out a big yawn and grimaced. Birds could be heard chirping outside the death chamber.
He was pronounced dead at 7:59 p.m.
The execution was delayed from its scheduled time of 7 p.m., partly because prison officials had trouble finding a vein in his left arm.
Hightower's last meal consisted of four fried pork chops, collard greens with boiled okra, fried corn, fried fatback, fried green tomatoes, corn bread, lemonade, a pint of strawberry ice cream and three glazed doughnuts. Prison officials said he ate about half of it.
Last-minute appeals by attorneys for Hightower, including a bid for clemency, failed.
Hightower was convicted for the July 12, 1987, killings of his wife, Dorothy Hightower, and his two stepdaughters, Evelyn Reaves and Sandra Reaves.
The execution was Georgia's first in nearly two years.
Among the evidence investigators said they had against Hightower: a confession and a flesh- and blood-covered murder weapon found in the car he was driving when he was arrested. His clothes also were stained with blood.
According to authorities, Hightower admitted he had been having marital problems. In the admission, he said he had been drinking and snorting cocaine hours before he entered the home where the victims were, placed a gun under a pillow in the room he shared with his wife and waited for everyone to go to sleep.
At about 3 a.m, police say, Hightower retrieved the gun and shot each of the three victims in the head. A 3-year-old girl in the house was found unharmed.
Hightower was arrested about 90 minutes after the shootings while driving his wife's car.
The execution was Georgia's first since Robert Conklin, a 44-year-old parolee who fatally stabbed a lawyer and dismembered the victim's body, was given a lethal injection on July 12, 2005.